Don't get your hopes up for the first facemask with built-in earbuds

You could probably make one yourself.

Of course masks are the latest craze in wearable tech. There’s LG’s “wearable air purifier” with battery-powered fans, an upcoming Belgian mask with temperature, oxygen saturation and breath sensors, as well as a Japanese mask that translates what you say into one of eight languages. The $50 Maskfone is the latest entrant in this new category of wearable devices and the company markets it as the “world’s first face mask with wireless headphones built in.”

But it’s not. The headphones are not so much built in as they are simply tucked in, which makes sense -- you'd want to remove them to wash the mask. Still, the Maskfone seriously skirts the boundaries of the definition of a gadget because it really is just a washable face mask with a pocket. Open the velcro attachment and you’ll find the included wireless necklace-style earbuds.

It’s not even a special pair of headphones, either. The Maskfone ships with a Motorola-branded headset that’s very similar to the Verveloop105 fitness earphones, though the exact model here is unknown. You’ll even hear the iconic “Hello Moto” when you turn the device on.

What’s also confusing are the faux buttons on the front of the mask. There are icons for “+,” “-” and Play, and though they look like they’re built into the fabric, they’re actually more like iron-on patches that don’t do anything. You have to make sure the headphone’s controller in the mask’s pocket lines up neatly under these symbols. Though you could also just press the buttons under the fabric if they’re misaligned -- the graphics on the mask do literally nothing.

The mollifying news, I guess, is that the product works as promised. It was easy enough to pair the Bluetooth headphones to my phone and use the middle “Play” button to pause and resume my music. Tapping the plus and minus signs increased and decreased the volume respectively and I had to hold them down for four seconds to skip forward and back. Double clicking the play button triggers an assistant (Google or Alexa), and I could also press it once to answer incoming calls.

After some syncing hiccups that prevented me from hearing my caller, the Maskfone eventually worked and I was able to speak with my friend. Despite the microphone being stuffed inside the mask’s pocket, my friend said they could hear me clearly.

Maskfone hands-on
Cherlynn Low / Engadget

The main benefit of Maskfone’s headphones being removable is that you can wash the mask and reuse it. The company also includes five N95/FFP2 or PM2.5 filters that you can insert, which makes it feel like a slightly better value. As a mask, too, this thing is comfortable and sturdy, with a stiff, bendable nose bridge and adjustable ear loops. I don’t hate it.

Maskfone’s biggest issue is its entire proposition. The main problem it solves is extremely niche. It’s for people who don’t want to sound muffled while taking phone calls when wearing a mask. It’s a valid concern, but I’m not sure Maskfone is an elegant solution. At $50, this thing costs the same as true wireless earbuds like the OnePlus Buds Z, Anker Soundcore Life P2 and JLab JBuds Air, which are far more convenient and easier to control.

Alternatively, you could consider getting the new $50 Beats Flex, which is also a neckband-style pair of wireless earbuds, or the Fitbit Flyer or even Motorola’s own headphones and sew them into an existing facemask if you really need. Plus, I don’t enjoy jabbing at my face to control my music, and even if I make peace with that, Maskfone’s setup is so low-tech it’s laughable.